Hot Rod Charlie and his five best human friends have big Kentucky Derby dreams
In every good horse movie—sea cookie, Hidalgo, Running strips— there’s a brooding protagonist who, through it all, believes his horse can win. In this story, there are five protagonists. And they are less moody.
Reiley Higgins, Patrick O’Neill, Alex Quoyeser, Eric Armagost and Dan Giovacchini are friends who met on Brown’s football team and wanted to find something they could all do together after graduating in 2014 Five years later, they decided to form Boat Racing LLC—an ode to the classic(?) drinking game—to invest in racehorses. After their first two horses, they found Hot Rod Charlie, the horse that currently has the fourth best odds win the Kentucky Derby this Saturday.
The crew, most of whom went into finance after graduating, approached big-money sport like a hedge fund, pooling their money to own 25% of Chuck (O’Neill said that we could call the horse by its nickname because we’re cool). At auction, Chuck fetched around $100,000, a relative steal in the baby racehorse business where breeders can pay up to $300,000 to have their mares (ladies’ horses) spend a special night with a stud (men’s horses) with a high pedigree.
“We are not the typical horse owner. We don’t have a billion dollars…and for me, we bring new energy to the sport and bring a bit of youth to the sport,” O’Neill told Morning Brew.
- For context, the undefeated Essential Qualitythe horse with the best chance of winning the Kentucky Derby this year, belongs to Dubai royalty who is worth billions.
Boat racing knew its way around the stables. Patrick O’Neill grew up watching horse racing and has always loved the sport. So when his friends decided to sign up for the investment plan, he enlisted the help of his uncles: Doug, a two-time Kentucky Derby champion trainer, and Dennis, the blood agent (a scout for young horses promising) who found Chuck at auction.
Before getting into horse racing, O’Neill wanted the guys to know what they were getting into. “95% of the time you don’t make money from horses. However, the 5% of the time you do it usually makes up for all your losses,” he said.
Maybe the real prize was the friendship they built along the way
O’Neill feared “not wanting to lose my best friends for money”. He had seen how betting on horse races had driven rifts between families and friends in the past, sometimes even his own family. “My grandfather, whose name I carry…was a wonderful person. My father was the eldest of four boys, and he saw what horse racing did to the family because my grandfather used to, say, bet a little,” O’Neill said.
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In the end, the crew set low expectations. Their goal was to break even and create great memories along the way. So while the friends have been traveling the country for the past year to watch Chuck race and maybe enjoy a few beers as well, they never expected the horse to end up qualifying for the most elitist in the world.
Through a series of races called Road to the Kentucky Derby, horses can accumulate points to qualify for… the Kentucky Derby. To even be considered for the big day, the horse must be three years old, which means that every horse competing in this year’s race was one of 19,664 registered thoroughbreds born in 2018. Only the top 20 horses with points qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
After finishing second in the Breeder’s Cup last fall and winning the Louisiana Derby in March, Chuck has secured his spot in the Kentucky Derby and has a real shot at winning the whole thing.
But just like a movie about horses that feels good, it’s not about the trophy, or the Derby’s $1.86 million top prize, or the potential for lifetime stud fees, or the press. what they could take away from winning, although it’s all certainly nice. “[Chuck is] more to us than just a racehorse we’ve invested in. If he never raced again, he would still be this amazing brother, our sixth man, if you will,” O’Neill said.
The People’s Horse
O’Neill said the Boat Racing crew has received a lot of support from family and friends, but also from people he has never met. They have also drawn a lot of attention for their plans to donate one-sixth of the prize money they will win on Saturday at the Melanoma Research Alliance in honor of O’Neill’s father and uncle, whom he lost to melanoma.
So while the five friends hang out at their Louisville Airbnb and iron their brightly colored sheets for the big day, fans across the country will be crossing their fingers that a Chuck victory will breathe new life into the old sport.